From the Publisher
“This wistful love story…exudes the same sweetness that characterizes [Gene Wilder's] screen persona.” Boston Globe
“A supple, unpretentious writer.” Palm Beach Post
“A poignant and whimsically romantic [story]…Wilder lovingly depicts…the miraculous joy and inevitable loss that liberate true emotion.” Publishers Weekly
“A sweet, adult fable.” Kirkus Reviews
Wilder's short second novel, following the similarly semifarcical My French Whore, takes a poignant and whimsically romantic poke at turn-of-the-last-century Europe's privileged gentry. When British concert violinist Jeremy Spencer Webb snaps, pouring water down a tuba and pounding the Steinway during a performance, he is sent to a health resort in the German Black Forest to recover. There, under the care of the orchestra director's brother, Dr. Karl Gross, Jeremy meets his idol, the consumptive Anton Chekhov, and an elusive "cute Belgie" named Clara Mulpas. His treatment, a regimen of rigorous walks, long baths, fine dining and the local white wine, is put to the test when he is asked to play with the string quartet that entertains the guests during dinner. The episode ends badly, but helps deepen his friendship with Chekhov. Jeremy also grows closer to Clara: struggling to restrain his normally flirtatious impulse so as not to scare her off, he gradually wins her over, with unexpected results. Wilder lovingly depicts the miraculous joy and inevitable loss that liberate true emotion in Jeremy and his music. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
A divorced violinist suffers a breakdown in the midst of an orchestral concert in Wilder's second historical novella (My French Whore, 2007). Without warning, violinist Jeremy Spencer Webb, in his early 30s, tears up the first violinist's sheet music, begins pounding the black keys of the piano and pours water into the tuba (he thought it was thirsty, he later explains). His orchestra sends him to an all-purpose German health spa (recalling Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, a volume as expansive as this one is slim), where his fellow patients include the revered Russian writer Anton Chekhov and a reticent young woman initially termed the "cute Belgie." Jeremy, who narrates the novella, does his best to initiate a relationship, or at least a conversation, with the beautiful Belgian woman (he considers her to be far more than cute), but she initially rejects him. She does reveal that her name is Clara Mulpas and that she is married, but that is it. The patient Jeremy, who spends his days sharing tales about critics with Chekhov, soon prevails upon Clara to let down her guard. As they start sharing meals, he discovers that her marriage has been almost as disastrous as his was. He later learns from their doctor, who runs the spa, that she has malignant, inoperable cancer. Yet the two plainly have a beneficial, therapeutic effect on each other, as their relationship deepens and turns (surprisingly explicitly, but still sweetly) sexual. It seems as if the tale is heading into Love Story territory, but the redemptive power of love proves stronger than that here. A sweet, adult fable.
Read an Excerpt The Woman Who Wouldn't
By Wilder, Gene St. Martin's Press
Copyright © 2008 Wilder, Gene
All right reserved.
It seems that the more unbelievable a story is, the more I’m able to believe it.
I’m thirty-three years old. In 1903 I had a nervous breakdown and was sent to a neuropsychiatric hospital wrapped in a straitjacket. How that came about is still hazy, but I’ll tell you what I remember.
I’m a concert violinist; at least I was before the breakdown. In May of 1903 I was in Cleveland, Ohio, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, when—right in the middle of the cadenza I had been working on for weeks—I suddenly put my violin down and began tearing up the first violinist’s sheet music. I tore his score into small pieces as fast as I could, poured water into the large mouth of a tuba, pounded on the keys of the piano with my fists—only the black keys—and then sat on the floor, weeping. The audience watched all of this with open mouths until security guards rushed in and carried me off the stage.
A few weeks later, after I had calmed down enough to speak three or four sentences in a row that sounded sane, I was interrogated by the chief of the medical staff. The rest of his staff sat in chairs nearby, listening.
“Do you know your name?”
“Jeremy Spencer Webb,” I answered.
“Good for you!” the chief doctor said.
“Pleasedon’t patronize me.”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said quite humbly. “Are you married?”
“No, thank goodness.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I was married a few years ago and if you had been married to my wife you’d be in a straitjacket now, and I’d be asking you questions.”
“Is that what caused your breakdown?”
“No, of course not—that’s just a bad memory. We’re divorced now.”
“Do you like your work as a musician, Mr. Webb?”
“I love my work more than I love my life.”
“Well then, why did you tear up the other violinist’s musical score . . . and pound the keys of a very expensive Steinway piano with your fist?”
“I don’t know. I honestly have no idea.”
“Do you have any idea why you poured water into a tuba?”
“I remember thinking that it might be thirsty.”
“Are you making a joke, Mr. Webb?”
“No, I’m not making a joke. I wish I were.”
The chief of staff stared at me for several seconds.
Two days later I was sent to a health resort in Badenweiler, Germany, which was in the Black Forest, close to the French and Swiss borders. Otto Gross, who was the artistic director of the Cleveland orchestra, wanted my written consent to have me taken there. I was reluctant to give it until he mentioned that the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, who was suffering from consumption, was also at the Badenweiler resort at this time. I had seen a production of Chekhov’s play, Uncle Vanya, which so intrigued me that I went to the public library in New York and read another play of his, The Seagull. I was moved by his insight and exquisite artistry. When Otto Gross also told me that my expenses would be paid by the orchestra, I signed the necessary papers. Just between us, I think they said that they would pay for everything because they were afraid of a possible lawsuit. Sending me from Cleveland, Ohio, to the Black Forest in Germany seemed crazy. Well, who was I to talk?
Copyright © 2008 by Gene Wilder. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from The Woman Who Wouldn't by Wilder, Gene Copyright © 2008 by Wilder, Gene. Excerpted by permission.
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